I was recently offered a spot in a Will Baddeley workshop. Bob informed me that some space was open and in lieu of the workshop fee I could also trade in work. I didn’t have $200, but with the onset of spring break I did have time. With a few trees that could use carving as well as an opportunity to meet more members of the bonsai community I gladly accepted. I spent the last few days working at his nursery doing anything asked of me. If I could sum up the 15 or so hours of work in one word–deweeding.
In seriousness it was good to spend some time outside and I enjoyed talking to Audrey and Bob. I will be attending the Sunday April 16th workshop and look forward to meeting those there.
Anyhow on to the tree. Winter of 2015 I picked up a large coast live oak from Barry Altshule. I visited his home and was able to get first pick before he brought the trees to that year’s GSBF Convention. It had good character, gnarly deadwood, and decent taper. All in all it looked like an interesting tree and I picked it up.
As seen in the picture, the whole front of the tree died off at some point. The heath of the tree as purchased wasn’t the best either and lacked a lot of foliage. .This was caused by borers of which were still in the tree! In the successive growing season I had to treat the tree with a systemic as well as physically removing the borers and treating the points of entry. After a year and a half of strong growth I can confidently say that the borers are gone and the tree is healthy.
Tons of character on the wood. These trees were collected and the slow growth with subsequent weathering produced gorgeous deadwood.
There was also significant dieback at the top of the tree as seen by the “L” shaped line. Despite the tree’s character and nice deadwood there were many design challenges. For one the tree lacked good primary branching not to mention the awkward transition to the apex as well as random bulges on the back. The tree was fed well to prepare for the major repotting.
Oaks being a semi-evergreen tree hold their leaves year round. This makes repotting difficult and many have reported losing their trees post repot. I was advised to defoliate the tree prior to repotting as to avoid transpiration loss and presumably a weak or dead tree.
The tree responded well and leafed out 1-2 weeks later. The top chop would be carved and and some preliminary wiring was done. In retrospect I should have cut back the front branch at this time to get better budding closer to the tree. But given that it was weak and had borers I feared the front of the tree dying and losing the bridge of live tissue between the top cut and the main deadwood.
Anyhow here is the tree several months later having pruned unnecessary branching as well as wiring some primary branching in place. As far as cut-backs for oaks the best time is mid-late winter right before the buds start swelling, and right after peak summer temperatures when (at least for coast live oaks) begin a second strong flush.
I missed the window to do cut backs on the larger primary branches due to my concerns of dieback. Due to my impatience I cut back the front branch with poor timing. It did throw out one tiny bud, but it was burned up in the heat. Fortunately I was able to get some side primary branching going.
Here is a shot of the branch structure developed at this time:
With several months of strong growth primary branches thickened substantially.
From my brief experience, coast live oaks develop SUPER fast in Socal. All the branching in this photo was developed from scratch.
At this point development was done for the year and I fed the tree aggressively to prepare for the big cut-backs to be done
I cut the tree back some time in late January. Just before the tree starts sending up sugars so food would not be allocated to branches that would be thrown away.
A few weeks later
Fast forward nearly 2 months later it it became a head of green.
Yes leaves and outer nodes are monstrous, but the node length for the first few pairs are short and usable. I tried out these dried hard balls of composted chicken poo and turns out they had much more nitrogen than I anticipated. Thankfully it was slow release so my initial growth didn’t come out with poor internodal length.
Unfortunately I did not get buds directly on the big branches I cut back. I did however get plenty of buds near it and opted to approach graft branching in place. My top side branch was removed entirely and will allow an adjacent shoot to fill in the space.
It’s a bit chaotic but I will be allowing the new growth to grow unrestricted until late summer when I do the cut backs. This will help me thicken my primary branches and give strong back budding when I do the cuts.
On the tree I did a total of 3 approach grafts. One in the front and 2 in the back. Unfortunately the front stub is dead but the cambium behind it bridging the gap between the top chop and front deadwood is alive and strong. Meaning graftable.
Not the cleanest grafts but I have confidence in them. As long the cambium underneath is alive and strong the branch should eventually fuse as it thickens up. Least I’m counting on it.
Here is the finished tree post spring styling. Extensions will be cut back and after a year the basic form of the tree will be set! Hard to believe it has developed this much in under 2 years. It’s hard to see the form with all the leaves but I will post an update when I do my cut back later this year.
A quick before and after showcasing the current progress:
Thanks for taking a look and I hope you’ve the read. Feel to leave me any comments. Have a great day! 🙂
Here is a more updated picture of the tree from April:
It is healthy and developing well.